India

Bihar's long and bitter electoral battle

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Media captionThe BBC's Sanjoy Majumder reports from Bihar, ''one of India's most politically aware states''

Polling for the fifth and final phase of elections has ended in the northern Indian state of Bihar. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder speaks to people in the state about the bitter war of words between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

In the dusty grounds of a local college in Darbhanga, north Bihar, the crowd is getting restive.

"Is he here yet?" one man mutters under his breath as he scans the skies.

On a small, temporary stage covered with green cloth, a few security men take up position while a local politician eggs on the crowd.

A short while later, a helicopter appears overheard and the crowd breaks into loud cheers. It circles the field before coming to rest in the middle of a clearing, sending dust flying in all directions.

Image copyright PRASHANT RAVI
Image caption Laloo Prasad Yadav (left) and Nitish Kumar (right) have joined hands to fight the BJP

A slightly built man with grey hair and salt-and-pepper stubble steps out waving.

This is Bihar's incumbent chief minister Nitish Kumar, addressing one of the last political rallies of what has been a long, bruising campaign.

He is also currently the biggest thorn in the side of the Indian prime minister.

Mr Kumar is a two-term regional politician heading a grand coalition of socialist parties allied with the country's main opposition Congress Party.

That Narendra Modi has addressed 26 political rallies over the past month, despite the fact that he is not on the ballot and the result has no direct bearing on his government, is a measure of how seriously he views the election.

Mr Kumar is clearly enjoying the challenge.

"Many outsiders have been visiting us these days, asking for your vote," he tells the crowd.

"Welcome them and then send them on their way," as a roar goes up.

Costly lentils

As voting draws to a close after nearly a month, the general consensus is that it's a tight race.

"Bihar is with Modi," says Asit Kumar Singh.

"The prime minister will bring in much-needed development."

But Charchit Anand is not so impressed.

"Look at the price of lentils, they are at an all time high," he says.

"What has Mr Modi done since becoming prime minister? All talk, no action."

Bihar is one of India's most politically aware states.

As the sun begins setting people gather at tea shops, some with newspapers in hand.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prime Minister Narendra Modi has addressed 26 political rallies in Bihar

And of course, the conversation centres around the elections.

It's been a bitter campaign and CP Singh, a government clerk, is upset at the way both sides have attacked each other.

"Just look at the language that's being used. Abuse, personal attacks - no-one is addressing the real issues. Inflation, infrastructure and employment," he says.

Lorry driver Mohammad Pervez agrees.

He's back home only to cast his vote.

"I've travelled all over India and seen how Bihar lags behind.

"There are plenty of educated youth here but no jobs. We need a few industries here, urgently.

"If young people don't get to work - they can only turn to crime or something equally disruptive."

Infrastructure woes

Bihar is one of India's poorest states. Its endemic poverty stares you in the face the moment you leave the towns.

As you approach the village of Kamalpur, you need to cross a narrow river.

The only way across is via a temporary bridge made of bamboo. It sways precariously from side to side as people, motorcycles and even cattle make their way across.

"It's always washed away in the monsoon floods," says Vinod Sharma a resident of Kamalpur.

"Then we have to build it again."

For the past 30 years the villagers have petitioned successive governments for a proper bridge.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bihar has been voting in five phases

"Every election they promise to build one," says a former village head, Raghubir Singh Yadav.

"Once elected they forget."

So two years ago the villagers pooled together some money and built the bridge themselves.

Like many Bihar villages, Kamalpur lacks basic infrastructure.

"We have a primary school but that's all," says Vinod Sharma.

"There are no doctors or medical clinics. If someone falls sick, we have to hitch a ride to the nearest town, which is a few hours away."

There's little hope here that much will change after these elections.

"The focus is on the prime minister and how Bihar will affect his image nationally," says Mr Yadav.

"Who cares about Biharis and what we want."

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